Crevel was born in Paris to a family of Parisian bourgeoisie. He had a traumatic religious upbringing. At the age of fourteen, during a difficult stage of his life, his father committed suicide by hanging himself. Crevel studied English at the University of Paris. He met André Breton and joined the surrealist movement in 1921, from which he would be excluded in October 1923 due to Crevel's homosexuality and Breton's belief that the movement had been corrupted.
During this period, Crevel wrote novels such as Mon corps et moi ("My Body and Me"). In 1926, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis which made him start using morphine. The 1929 exile of Léon Trotsky persuaded him to rejoin the surrealists. Remaining faithful to André Breton, he struggled to bring communists and surrealists closer together. Much of Crevel's work deals with his inner turmoil at being bisexual.
Crevel killed himself by turning on the gas on his kitchen stove the night of 18 June 1935, several weeks before his 35th birthday. There were at least two direct reasons: (1) There was a conflict between Breton and Ilya Ehrenburg during the first "International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture" which opened in Paris in June 1935. Breton, who, like all fellow surrealists, had been insulted by Ehrenburg in a pamphlet which said – among other things – that surrealists were pederasts, slapped Ehrenburg several times on the street, which led to surrealists being expelled from the Congress. Crevel, who, according to Salvador Dalí, was "the only serious communist among surrealists", spent a whole day trying to persuade the other delegates to allow surrealists back, but he was not successful and left the Congress at 11pm, totally exhausted. (2) Crevel reportedly had learned that he suffered from renal tuberculosis right upon leaving the Congress (Claude Courtot). He left a note which read "Please cremate my body. Loathing."
It should be remembered that when André Breton included the question "Suicide: Is It a Solution?" in the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste in 1925, Crevel was one of those who answered "Yes". He wrote "It is most probably the most correct and most ultimate solution."
- Détours (1924)
- Mon Corps et moi (1925)
- La Mort difficile (1926)
- Babylone (1927)
- L'Esprit contre la raison (1928)
- Êtes-vous fous? (1929)
- Le Clavecin de Diderot (1932)
- Les Pieds dans le plat (1933)
- Le Roman cassé et derniers écrits (1934–1935)
- My body and I (translations of Mon Corps et Moi; Archipelago Books, 2005)
- Babylon (translation of Babylone), translated by Kay Boyle, North Point Press, 1985, ISBN 0-86547-191-6
- Babylon (translation of Babylone; Sun and Moon Press, 1996)
- Putting My Foot in It (translation of Les Pieds dans le plat; Dalkey Archive Press, 1994)
- Difficult Death (translation of La Mort difficile; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986)
- 1830 (Elysium Press, 1996)
- Renee Winegarten, "The golden boy of Surrealism: On René Crevel", The New Criterion, February 1987, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 2013-12-26.
- Crevel, René (1932). Le Clavecin de Diderot. Paris: Éditions Surréalistes. p. 161, "Afterword".
- Crevel, René (1932). Le Clavecin de Diderot. Paris: Éditions Surréalistes. p. 162, "Afterword".
- Putting My Foot in It. Official site for this translation.
- René Crevel, Freud de l’Alchimiste à l’Hygiéniste, Revue Le Disque Vert, 2e année, 3e Série, n°1, 1924.
- René Crevel, Notes en vue d’une psycho-dialectique, Revue Le Surréalisme Au Service De La Révolution, n° 5, May 1933.
- René Crevel at Find a Grave